Activestills: Photography As Protest in Palestine/Israel

Aggiornato il: 1 ott 2020




Title : Activestills: Photography As Protest in Palestine/Israel

Photographer(s) : AA.VV.

Writer(s) : Vered Maimon, Shiraz Grinbaum

Designer(s): Studio Gimel2

Publisher(s): Pluto Press, London, England

Year : 2016

Print run :

Language(s) : English

Pages : 319

Size : 20 x 25 cm

Binding : Softcover

Edition :

Print :

Nation(s) and year(s) of Protest : Palestine/Israel

ISBN : 978-0745336695















In 2005, a group of photographers took a stand alongside the people of the small town of Bil’in, and documented their fight to stop the Israeli government building the infamous West Bank Barrier. Inspired by what they had seen in Bil’in, the group went on to form Activestills, a collective whose work has become vital in documenting the struggle against Israeli occupation and everyday life in extraordinary situations.

Activestills:Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel examines the collective’s archive and activity from historical, theoretical, critical, and personal perspectives. It is the result of an in-depth dialogue among members of the collective and activists, journalists, intellectuals, and academics, and stands as the definitive study of the collective’s work.

Visual activism, including activist, protest or struggle photography, can be seen as offering a response to the radical critique that photojournalism and documentary photography faced in the 1980s by critics such as Martha Rosler and Allan Sekula These critics argued that by focusing on victimhood, empathy, and compassion, documentary photography was complicit with liberal politics and completely divorced from any program of social reform or revolutionary politics.  In documentary photography the focus was either on the “brave photographer,” or on the feelings of the spectator, but not on the subject of the photograph. This condition led to the constitution of a passive viewer and perpetuated existing power relations in which information about a group of powerless people was addressed to the socially powerful. In this way documentary photography failed to point out and address the economic, social, and political structures and conditions that enabled inequality in the first place.

Activestills collective work can be considered as part of this shift, from photojournalism to visual activism, and from the documentation of victimhood and destitution to the visualization of the social relationships and networks that underlie the activities of struggling and protesting communities. Activestills’ members see themselves as activists, photographers, and witnesses. They view their photographic act as tantamount to the act of protest itself, and not simply as a form of witnessing, the collective’s emphasis is not on “representation” of the “suffering of the other,” but on the enactment of political agency and the demand for rights—to mobility, livelihood, and protection from violence. As opposed to documentary photography, activist photography is intrinsically bounded within the communities and oppressive strategies it works to expose. Activestills’ work in Palestine/Israel is thus meant to address the struggling communities’ visual and material needs, while also working to emphasize the specific conditions of life under Israeli occupation and segregation policies.

Activestills’ photographs thus acquire their political currency not only because of what is seen in them, but also due to their operative modes of transmission, circulation and dissemination as integral components of struggles. One image that can be given as an example to the above is that of the late Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmah, who was killed in 2009 by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in the West Bank of Bil’in.  A photograph taken of him by Activestills holding a kite near the Israeli separation barrier, appears in a poster commemorating his death. The poster was then hanged outside his house and around the village, and was used as part of a memorial monument marking the site of his death. The image was also turned into a shield protecting demonstrators from tear gas grenades during later protests. The photograph takes an active part in the continuous mobilization and propagation of the struggle through its appropriation by the community it makes visible. The image becomes an agent for transformation and political change, rather than a “fixed” representation of resistance, an object for passive contemplation.


By Plutopress blog

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